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Full text of "The Loom Of Language"

The Story of the Alphabet              69

m its history Since then it has been a cultural millstone round their
necks

If the Russians, the Germans, or any other Aryan-speaking people
had come into contact with Chinese script while they were still bar-
barians, they could not have used the Chinese symbols to make up a
satisfactory battery of affixes for two reasons One reason for this is
that the total number of affixes in derivative words of an Indo-European
language is far greater than the number of Japanese affixes A second is
that Chinese has no sounds corresponding to the large class of closed
monosyllables which occur as affixes, such as the -ness in manliness.
A third is that words of the Aryan languages are rich in consonant
clusters So a European people would have reaped httle advantage by
using Chinese characters as symbols of sound instead of as symbols
of meaning That transition from logographic script to sound-writing
depends on the lock as well as on the key is easy to test. Make a table
of English monosyllabic words of the open type and use it to build
up English, French, or German polysyllables with the aid of a dictionary.
You will then discover this The possibility of achieving a more simple
method of writing for such languages as English, French, or German
involved another unique combination of circumstances

THE COMING OF THE ALPHABET
In the ancient Mediterranean world, syllable scripts were m use
among Semitic peoples, Cypnots, and Persians They got the bricks, as
the Japanese got their syllabaries from the Chinese, from their neigh-
bours of Mesopotamia and Egypt, where forms of picture-writing first
appeared None of these syllabaries has survived. All have made way
for the alphabet.
The dissection of a word into syllables—especially the words of an
agglutinating language—is not a very difficult achievement. The split-
ting of the syllable into consonants and vowels was a much more
difficult step to take. The fact that all true alphabets have an unmis-
takable family likeness if we trace them back far enough forces us to
beheve that mankind has once only taken this step (Fig 15) We know
roughly when this happened, who were responsible, and in what cir-
cumstances it took place. Through inscriptions m the mines of the
Sinai peninsula (Fig 2) about 1500 B.C , and in other places between
this date and about 1000 B c, archaeologists can trace the transfortm-
uon of a battery of about twenty Egyptian pictograms into the symbols